A salute to Schu­mann

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week -

The his­tory of clas­si­cal mu­sic is so rich that it pro­vides per­pet­ual op­por­tu­ni­ties for an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions. We are now in the midst of a three-year salute of more than usual in­ten­sity thanks to the bi­cen­ten­ni­als of an ex­tra­or­di­nary group of com­posers who were born in a clus­ter as the first decade of the 19th cen­tury ceded to the sec­ond: Felix Men­delssohn in 1809, Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schu­mann in 1810, and Franz Liszt in 1811. As a group, they rep­re­sent the core of the Ro­man­tic move­ment in mu­sic, a po­si­tion they earned prin­ci­pally through the mu­sic they com­posed but also through the fas­ci­nat­ing lives they lived.

Ro­man­ti­cism is a river made up of many cur­rents, and each of these com­posers dis­played a unique bal­ance of Ro­man­tic traits. Of the bunch, Schu­mann is some­times sin­gled out as the quin­tes­sen­tial Ro­man­tic, and I am loath to let his bi­cen­ten­nial slip away with­out invit­ing mu­sic lovers to mar­vel at his dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter. The gen­eral con­tours of his life are well known and of­ten heart-rend­ing. Born in the in­dus­trial city of Zwickau, Sax­ony (in east-cen­tral Ger­many), on June 8, 1810, he was the son of a fi­nan­cially com­fort­able book­seller and there­fore grew up sur­rounded by in­tel­lec­tual rich­ness. He was sent off to law school in Leipzig but spent his time there pur­su­ing mu­sic in­stead. He signed up for lessons with the es­teemed pi­ano teacher Friedrich Wieck and ac­tu­ally roomed in his home. Sev­eral years passed be­fore Wieck’s pi­anoprodigy daugh­ter, Clara, blos­somed into the young woman who would cap­ture Schu­mann’s heart. Papa Wieck would have none of it. He tried to pre­vent their mar­riage by press­ing a law­suit, but he lost and the cou­ple mar­ried in 1840.

In the mean­time, Schu­mann’s prospects as a con­cert pi­anist had ended due to a repet­i­tive-stress in­jury oc­ca­sioned by too much prac­tic­ing. He wors­ened his sit­u­a­tion through var­i­ous then-trendy treat­ments, of which prob­a­bly the least de­struc­tive was the “an­i­mal bath” (plac­ing his hands for ex­tended pe­ri­ods within the car­casses of beasts). Clara served as his pi­anis­tic voice, in­stead, and she would be revered un­til her death late in the cen­tury as one of the sum­mit mu­si­cians of her era. Schu­mann com­posed re­lent­lessly. When he wasn’t com­pos­ing, he was writ­ing imag­i­na­tive com­men­tary about the cul­tural scene that was flour­ish­ing around him, some­times chan­nel­ing his mu­sic and his prose through the dis­tinct voices of his imag­i­nary friends: fiery Florestan, dreamy Euse­bius, and the more even­handed Mas­ter Raro (whose moniker was con­structed from the end of Clara’s name and the be­gin­ning of Robert’s).

Mental ill­ness came to dom­i­nate his life, and later gen­er­a­tions have found in that a con­ve­nient (if some­times ques­tion­able) ex­pla­na­tion for some of the more ec­cen­tric as­pects of his cre­ativ­ity, such as his ten­dency to fo­cus his en­ergy ob­ses­sively on a sin­gle genre un­til he felt he had reached his lim­its in that area and then move on se­quen­tially to other chal­lenges: pi­ano mu­sic through 1839, lieder in 1840 (141 songs in that year alone), sym­phonic mu­sic in 1841, cham­ber mu­sic in 1842, and so on. Mod­ern psy­chi­a­try might term him bipo­lar, but the di­ag­no­sis might ex­tend be­yond that, and it would take into ac­count the ef­fects of syphilis. Things went from bad to worse, and in 1854 Schu­mann at­tempted sui­cide; he ran through the car­ni­val crowds throng­ing the streets of Düs­sel­dorf and cast him­self into the Rhine. He was res­cued, but he im­me­di­ately com­mit­ted him­self to a mental in­sti­tu­tion (a hu­mane and en­light­ened one, for­tu­nately) out of fear that he might harm Clara or their chil­dren (their eighth — the sev­enth to sur­vive in­fancy — was born three months later). There he re­mained al­most two and a half years, with his beloved Clara stay­ing away, on his doc­tor’s sug­ges­tion, un­til two days be­fore his death.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.